Obesity in the United States

The culture-bound syndrome, or CBS, that I chose to research was obesity in the United States. The author of this article, Cheryl Ritenbaugh, is a phsycial antropologist that decided to study these syndromes that she says can be defined as “symptom constellations localized to a single or a few non-Western societies.” The author tells us that “these syndromes are recognized, defined, and named by native users,” and expresses the idea that “each culture is unique and each population has a unique gene pool and environment, [therefore] it is logical that each society may differ to a greater or lesser degree from all others in terms of its exact biologic pattern/disease category profile.” Ritenbaugh’s main point in this being that a CBS may have multiple factors playing into its occurrence in different cultures.

Ritenbaugh goes on to discuss the interpretation of obesity as a disease. In the US, Americans place a huge importance on how they look, including their weight. As most people know, being overweight can often lead to many health problems, and insurance companies in the US even go as far as to charge more money for those deemed “fat.” Obesity has become such a large issue mostly due to the increasing amount of unhealthy, easy access food sources. Wealthy Americans have access to healthy, nutrient- rich foods, while the poor often live in food desserts.

Furthermore, Cheryl Ritenbaugh says, “the negative associations of obesity are not universal today, but geographic dispersal of this concept is increasing as these negative associations are exposted with Western culture and biomedicine.” This means that Western culture is beginning to influence other cultures with the prevalence of obesity, most likely due to medical issues associated with obesity and things like the media placing such high value on weight, or being thin.

From my own perspective, obesity can be caused by many different things. On a biological level, obesity can be caused by genetic factors and instability of bodily processes, such as how the body digests, or proccesses, food. Culturally speaking, traditions, environment, food availability, and socioeconomic factors can play a role in what people eat and how they respond to obesity and body size. Finally, individually, people view obesity in different ways. Diet, exercise, and self- image are all individual choices that affect weight. As it turns out, the evauluation and treatent of obesity is done through all of the things listed above. (diet, exercise, food availability, socioeconomic factors, self- image, etc). I believe in times to come we will be hearing much more about obesity from cultures all over the world.



Ritenbaugh, Cheryl. “Obesity as a Culture- Bound Syndrome.” Cult Med Psychiatry 6.4 (1982): 347-64. NCBI- Pub Med. Web. 19 July 2012. <http://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/pubmed/ 7160198>. 








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